East Lansing, MI
The #6 Michigan State Spartans are 22-5 (8-5) and on a roll. They have won two in a row and six of the last seven heading into Columbus tonight to take on the Buckeyes. While senior big man Matt Costello is zeroing in on the schools all-time career shot block record, he is also getting a lot of positive attention for his play.
After MSU derailed the Indiana Hoosiers last week 88-69, former Izzo assistant Tom Crean and now the IU head man had a lot to say about Costello. “He’s playing himself into the NBA.” That is high praise for the affable star from Linwood, MI. I also agree with it.
I contacted a well-respected current NBA scout and asked him how he sees the developing Costello. “He really reminds me a lot of former MSU big man Kevin Willis. Obviously not as much height, but big, I think the same weight. Matt can do even more on his feet defensively. Remember that Willis was a lot better as a professional than a college player because he kept improving, that is the similarity with Willis. I think Willis played like 25 years. (Actually 24) I think Matt has gotten better every year and his commitment to defense, ability around the basket and improving outside game is very promising. We like him.”
So who better to ask than the Spartans future hall of fame coach Tom Izzo? I asked him about his former protégé’s praise and Izzo said, “Well, I think he’s got a ways to go but I think whenever you’re averaging around a double-double in this league, it opens some doors. I just spent some time with Matt earlier today and it has been fun to watch the evolution of Matt from when he started to the middle to the end when you look at not only his game but his personality. He’s a unique kid in a lot of ways and one that I keep thinking has more to give, so I’m never satisfied with Matt. Not that I’m satisfied with many people, but I really think that Matt Costello has an upside yet because he can shoot the ball as he works harder on that. He worked harder on it as a sophomore and then forgot about the inside game. Then he worked harder on the inside game, but I think there is gonna be a balance there. I think for him to really improve he’s either got to get bigger and stronger this way or keep working on his quickness. But he upped his free-throw percentage a lot, it dropped off a little bit now. He definitely can shoot the ball, he’s very smart and a good defender. He’s got a knack for a guy that doesn’t jump out of the gym to No. 1 rebound, but to No. 2 I’m hoping he’ll become our all-time career blocked shots leader. And he’s got a chance to do both. Those kinds of things put you in a position where somebody is gonna be looking and when the year ends, one of the things we talked about was let’s make a run and see where we can end up. So it’s kind of an exciting time that at least he’s giving himself a chance to play basketball after college and that’s what I think is really important.”
No one has a better view of Costello’s play than his best friend and fellow Spartan senior captain Denzel Valentine. I asked the Spartan star for his thoughts and as you can imagine he agreed with Tom Crean. "He's been a reliable low-post threat all year. He's worked extremely hard in the offseason and preseason to get where he's at now. I think it started at the beginning of the year and he's just been consistent and that's the biggest thing for being an NBA player. He's brought that. I think he's one of the best big men in the country as far as what low-post threats and things he can do. He kind of shoot it, too."
He also added about Costello that, "Matt has done a great job of being aggressive, and telling me when he wants the ball and telling coach when he wants the ball. I think he's playing with more confidence now. Every time I throw it in there, I think he's going to score. DD is not too far off that and Gavin is progressing. He's getting better, he's working hard every day. When those guys are playing better down low, it only opens us for the perimeter because they're helping down low or they come set ball screens and they're worried about getting back to the roll. That opens up the game for me and it's just better for our complete offense when they're playing like that."
So when I asked Costello about Crean’s thoughts it almost surprised the humble youngster. He told me that, “I hope he’s right. That would be really nice. That’s been my goal since coming here – one of my goals since coming here – was to go to the NBA. Of course, I’m going to look back to this season because this is the best I’ve played, statistically-wise, minutes-wise, everything. Just gotta try and keep rolling. That’s fun to say that stuff and have those opportunities, but we still have a lot of stuff in front of us. We still have a chance to a Big Ten regular-season championship, Big Tournament Championship and a national championship, so we have a lot of stuff in front of us. I will worry about all that stuff April 7, after the national championship, but right now, I’ve got other stuff to worry about.”
Costello is right. He has other things to worry about, like a July wedding, but for now it’s beating the Buckeyes tonight in Columbus. That game tips off at 9PM and you can see that on ESPN.